Amid higher utility rates, the threat of rolling blackouts and legislative indecision on how to solve California’s energy problems, there is one proposal to get voters involved.
A ballot initiative to let cities, counties and other public agencies, such as municipal utilities and irrigation districts, buy and sell natural gas has been cleared for signature collection by the Secretary of State’s office.
The initiative emerged from the office of Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, whose district includes three electricity-supplying irrigation districts.
To Cardoza and others, putting public agencies in the natural gas business would result in lower gas and electricity prices for consumers because most generators run on natural gas.
Cardoza’s proposal is the first of what observers say could be several energy-related measures on future ballots.
For months, consumer advocates have warned that they will use the initiative process if they feel lawmakers are saddling taxpayers with the costs of the state’s botched energy deregulation.
“As soon as we find out what the Legislature has done or has not done this fall, we’ll react appropriately,” said Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, one of the groups considering an initiative.
“If there’s a bailout (of utilities), we’ll go to the ballot box. If there isn’t a bailout, it’s not clear what we’ll do,” Court said. “Right now we’re fundraising to be able to have the capacity to do whatever needs to be done.”
The future of Cardoza’s initiative is uncertain.
Since its approval by the Secretary of State’s office on May 29, there has been no effort to collect signatures or to raise money for a campaign. The initiative needs the signatures of 670,816 registered voters by Oct. 26 to qualify for the ballot.
The electric industry strongly opposes the Cardoza initiative.
“This came about during the winter because it looked like there was going to be a natural gas shortage,” said Stephanie Espinosa, a spokeswoman for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. “Since then we’ve been able to provide sufficient natural gas to our customers.”
A recent poll, however, showed Californians may be in the mood to approve energy-related ballot measures. The Public Policy Institute of California poll found 65 percent of all adults believe measures on the 2002 ballot are the best way to solve the energy crisis. Thirty percent said the Legislature and Gov. Gray Davis would provide the best solution.